Spotted sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) © Flickr user Nigel (CC by 2.0)

Stories in Kansas

Spotted Sandpiper

April 2018 Shorebird of the Month

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

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I would be hard pressed to name my favorite shorebird. Like all other birds, choosing my favorite bird depends on the season. The spotted sandpiper isn’t seen in large numbers in the spring – and even then the recorded numbers vary quite a bit from year to year. But sometimes, a few will stick around to spend the summer at Cheyenne Bottoms to nest. So, if I see a spotted sandpiper in August…it definitely qualifies as my favorite bird that month.

The many different sandpipers can be hard to identify, but the eponymous markings of the spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) make this one a bit easier to recognize. 

Fun Facts

Playing the odds: female spotted sandpipers sometimes practice polyandry - mating with multiple males and laying up to 4 separate clutches of eggs

Take the lead: the males incubate the eggs and tend to the hatchlings

In a bind: groups of sandpipers are sometimes called binds

Charcoal drawing of a spotted sandpiper
Spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularisu) Female spotted sandpipers may mate with multiple males, laying up to 4 clutches of eggs which are incubated by the males. © Robert Penner/TNC

Habitat & Range

Spotted sandpipers can be found across North America, breeding from Alaska and Canada as far south as Kansas and parts of Arizona & New Mexico. They then migrate south to winter on the southern coasts of the US and throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Like most shorebirds, spotted sandpipers are looking for shoreline, but many kinds of water will do: streambanks, ponds, temporary and permanent wetlands, even water bodies in the mountains. They eat small invertebrates (like bugs, worms & crustaceans) dug up from the sandy and muddy shores or plucked out of the air – sometimes they’ll even eat fish. When nesting, they look for nearby vegetation to keep the nests and chicks hidden from predators. 

Conservation Status

Low concern. 2012 population surveys estimate there are 660,000 spotted sandpipers in North America, and the species isn’t on most watch lists. However slow and steady declines between 1966 and 2014 mean this number is only about half what it was mid-century. Their widespread breeding distribution is one reason they are ranked at low concern. Local threats like loss of wetlands and poor water quality may impact the birds in some areas but, for now, there is other habitat for relocation.  

Cheyenne Bottoms Area Status

Rare mid-April through early-October with the very occasional nesting pairs in the summer. There’s a better, but still slight, chance of seeing spotted sandpipers throughout May during spring migration.

 

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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD